n a civil lawsuit, the former general manager of Zona Rosa is being accused of improperly using the mall’s funds to purchase equipment for her personal furniture business.
Olshan Properties filed a lawsuit against Rosemary Salerno, 51, of Kansas City, to recover damages and attorney fees. The civil suit accuses Salerno of “fraud” and “unjust enrichment” in the alleged purchase of equipment for personal use.
In a separate action, Salerno has filed a workplace discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against Olshan.
Public attitudes toward Zona Rosa and its former management have hardened over the past couple years. The outdoor shopping mall at I-29 and Barry Road has failed to generate enough sales tax revenue to make the annual payment on the Zona Rosa bonds, which helped finance the construction of the mall’s parking garage. A legal battle between Platte County and bond trustee UMB Bank is ongoing, with the county arguing that county taxpayers are not legally bound to make up the shortfall.
Olshan Properties no longer owns/operates Zona Rosa, with new owner/operators having taken over late in 2018. Salerno, several months after being terminated from her position at Zona, was hired as the general manager of City Market in Kansas City.
Salerno served as the general manager of Zona Rosa for a 14-year period beginning in 2004. Salerno’s employment was allegedly terminated on Feb. 5, 2018 following an internal investigation into whether she used her position to gain $1,146 in equipment for her own personal use.
According to the lawsuit, Salerno and Todd Sharbono, the facilities manager of Zona Rosa, ran a furniture refinishing business together. Some of the vintage furniture pieces were allegedly sold at a three-day home décor and outdoor furnishings event at Zona Rosa, dubbed Vintage Market Days.
The lawsuit alleges Salerno used Olshan Properties’ funds to purchase a Forcecut 40D plasma cutter, valued at $629.14, and a Kobalt 60-gallon electric vertical air compressor, valued at $517.19, solely for Salerno’s furniture business.
Though Salerno was authorized to make up to $5,000 in purchases for the operation and management of Zona Rosa without additional authorization, the corporation’s funds were to be spent on items for the workplace.
Olshan Properties contends the items were stored in Salerno’s work site and used for her personal benefit. The Olshan Properties’ lawsuit alleges the act of purchasing the equipment under false pretenses rises to a level of fraud.
A bench trial in the case is scheduled for May 2 at 1:30 p.m. in the courtroom of Platte County Associate Circuit Court Judge Dennis Eckold.
Salerno claims discrimination and retaliation
In a separate and distinct lawsuit, Salerno’s attorneys argue Salerno was wrongfully fired, pointing out that she brought the Vintage Market event to Zona Rosa to increase revenue and foot traffic.
And it did.
From Sept. 29, 2017 through Oct. 1, 2017, the event generated about $20,000 and attracted roughly 15,000 visitors, wrote Salerno’s attorney, Athena Dickson. The suit acknowledges Salerno sold furniture at Vintage Market Days that she refurbished with Sharbono on their own time at a work site outside of Zona Rosa. Salerno and Sharbono paid for the booth rental fee using their own funds and took approved time off work to sell their refurbished furniture at the event, states the employee discrimination suit. One of their reconditioned furniture pieces was donated to Hillcrest for its annual charity auction on behalf of Zona Rosa, it adds.
Four months after the second Vintage Market Days event, Salerno was relieved of her duties.
Salerno contends her employment was terminated after she refused to use parking meter funds toward Zona Rosa’s operating costs. From the outset of the outdoor mall’s opening, funds collected from the 250 parking meters went directly to various charities in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.
Zona Rosa offers a combination of on-street parking, as well as garage and surface lot parking. The fee based on-street parking is managed by a parking meter system, while the other 4,000 parking spots are free.
When patrons receive a $5 parking ticket fine, they are informed their ticket payment will go to schools and non-profits organizations.
According to the lawsuit, the corporate treasurer of Olshan Properties told Salerno about “the property’s cash flow issues” on Jan. 30, 2018 and allegedly asked Salerno to “figure out a way” to use the parking meter funds towards operating costs.
“This directive, if carried out, would have been a violation of Missouri law and public policies,” wrote attorney Dickson in the lawsuit.
This presents the question of whether Olshan was permitted to change its policy. Some argue contrary to what is depicted in the lawsuit, changing Zona Rosa’s policy on how it chooses to use its parking meter funds is at the owner’s discretion.
The Landmark reached out to Salerno to address this question, but her attorney said they could not comment on pending litigation.
Additionally, the lawsuit contends Salerno’s younger male counterpart and former co-worker was not reprimanded by Olshan Properties following the Vintage Market Days event. Thus, making the argument Salerno was subjected to discriminatory treatment based on her sex and age.
Salerno is seeking more than $25,000 in damages for lost wages, benefits and suffering.
The case has been moved from the Jackson County Circuit Court to the United States District Court of the Western District of Missouri.